Why I left my depression support group in the first month of recovery.

No, it wasn’t because I’ve started feeling better and I thought I didn’t need to go.

On the contrary, I’m committed to finding a support group that works for me, but unfortunately this wasn’t as automatically a good fit as I had hoped. I liken the situation to going to a therapist for the first time, and just not clicking as much as you had hoped, and deciding that you need to look for an alternative.

My expectations going into support group meetings were to have an open platform to share, to be able to talk to other people about coping mechanisms for anxiety and depression, and to celebrate small victories, like opening up to others about your depression and breaking down stigma barriers. This wasn’t quite true for what went down and it meant that I had to think long and hard (and talk to friends and family) about whether I was going back or not.

My first red flag was – to no fault of the group itself – that I was the only male at the session. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, but I found that a lot of the discussion in the group was centred around female issues and that built up a rapport of support for each other quite closely related primarily to these specific issues. I’m more than open about talking about these things (I grew up with two sisters who I am close with and have always gravitated to female friends), but it was really just the realisation that I felt quite othered while sitting there, now so much more aware that there is a bigger stigma around talking about depression among men, but also acutely aware that I didn’t quite fit in with the group. I cracked a joke about being the “odd one out” but I could also tell that having a male around made a few other people quite uncomfortable to share, which is not something I wanted to be contributing to, especially as these ladies had taken a big step towards their recovery by showing up to the group in the first place.

The second thing that threw me off a bit, was that many people decided to use the group as a pseudo-therapy session. My expectations were clear – I don’t necessarily want to carry what I’m dealing with in therapy through to a broader group of strangers, but I also don’t think it’s fair to just offload your baggage in the meeting and to make the session about yourself only. I wanted to have engaging conversations with others about what they had tried, what had worked for them, and what hadn’t. I wanted group to be a tool that would help me generate positive momentum, rather than being a space where it’s just about talking and venting. I understand that sharing can be a big deal for some people, and it can be an important factor of recovery, but my type A personality possibly just isn’t comfortable with not feeling like we’re actively doing something to get from where we’re at now, to where we’d like to go.

I think the key to finding a good support network around you is to make sure that you feel 100% comfortable, supported and that you can connect with the group. It wasn’t just about being the only male in the group, but also because the group mainly had people that were a lot older than me. I understand that dealing with depression and anxiety is a lifelong battle, and I take nothing away from the group being set up the way it is, but simply put, I need to be able to talk to people who are still working full-time, possibly those who have experience being an entrepreneur and running a business, and also those who have a better idea about millennial struggles in 2018.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps I had other ideas for what group will be, but I also think it’s important to be firm with myself about what will help my recovery, and what won’t. I could attend these meetings and take on a lot of the baggage of the other members, which is something I’ve always struggled with, but I’m doing my best to set some healthy new boundaries in my life in order to prioritise my recovery. It remains a work in progress, but I feel like I’m heading in the right direction at least. I wish the group I left well and hope to find one that suits me a bit better soon.

Conrad was here.

We set physical health goals, but what about mental health goals? These are mine.

All through my late teens and my early twenties I set a lot of physical fitness goals. Run a half marathon. Lose 10kg’s. Jog five times a week. Walk three times a week. These were all usually achieved, as I tend to be someone who gets almost militant about achieving personal goals. It’s a blessing and a curse, and part of the reason why I ended up being diagnosed with depression in the first place. I’m learning to be a bit less rigid and more adaptable, which is part of what I’m working on with a life coach at the moment.

I find it incredible that we’re always quick to set physical health goals, but that mental health doesn’t get the same treatment. I can’t recall once in my life – other than in the last two weeks – taking time to prioritise what is going to be important in terms of my mental health and wellbeing as someone who suffers from depression. I’ve always been happy to accept that you simply get over what you’re feeling or going through, the phrase “get on with it” usually rings in my head, and subsequently my depression has crept further and further into my life, causing chaos across all spheres.

There was a stage a few weeks ago, before I was diagnosed with depression, where I wasn’t able to see past my 30th birthday, essentially, past the end of this month. I was in a very dark, suicidal place, which I am glad I can talk about in the past tense.

A useful recovery exercise for me has been to map out some short-term (6 month) mental health goals, which not only assist in keeping my recovery on track, but also helps me to see past just this month, this day, and this very moment. In a lot of ways, recovering from depression is a day-to-day process, and I wouldn’t advise on setting up a new five year plan when you’re in this state of mind, but some short-term checkpoints can really help to keep you motivated and also help you to have something positive about your journey to share with loved ones. Your recovery doesn’t have to be all “yes mom, I’m doing ok today”. Your goals provide context and others will be encouraged to support you along the way.

So what are my mental health goals for the next six months? I’ve tried to highlight them as simply and clearly as possible.

  • Quit drinking alcohol while you are on anti-depressants, to give your body the best possible chance to settle and readjust. This is something I haven’t spoken to any of my friends or family about, and am waiting to talk about once I’m a little further into my recovery. I haven’t even had the urge to drink anything since I started the meds and quite frankly I don’t need another reason for my body to feel worse. Ironically, people like showing up at my place for support, bottle of wine in hand.
  • Meditate three times a week. This one is tough, as I usually struggle to prioritise even just 15 minutes for myself at the end of the day. I’ve learned that it doesn’t need to be rigid and for a fixed amount of time, sometimes simply sitting in silence, practicing mindfulness for a few minutes, can make all the difference. In the long run, I’d love to make this a daily practice, but I’d like for it to draw me in. No more swimming upstream to make it a part of my schedule.
  • Take anti-depressants for at least six months. The doctor did warn that after a month, when I feel better, I’ll get the urge to go off the meds. I’ve committed to following through with the meds for at least six months, with the option to extend to a year if need be. Slow and steady wins the race. I’ve given over to the fact that I can’t control how this disease makes me feel by simply hoping I’ll feel better soon – the meds are an important tool in this regard.
  • Go to 15 therapy sessions. My medical aid has approved 15 free sessions based on my diagnosis (a ‘severe depressive episode’), which I need to use before the end of the year. This is major, as I would not otherwise be able to afford the sessions. I’m starting with therapy tomorrow and will continue weekly through until October.
  • Keep talking about your mental health to others. This includes what I consider a new calling to be a mental health ambassador of sorts. This blog, coupled with ‘real world’ conversations, has the power to reach people from all walks of life, and hopefully will encourage others to start a real conversation about how difficult depression can be to navigate. I’d like to explore becoming a mental health ambassador at work, and will be talking about it HR and my line manager about it once I’m further along in the process.
  • Write three blog posts a week. I’m aware that I’ve had the luxury of writing more over the past week or so, considering I’ve been off from work. Writing is therapy for me, nothing else. I am however aware that things will not always be as simple and that life will happen, and things will get busy again. I’d still like to make my writing a priority, as this blog is a big part of my recovery process. I’ve prioritised writing three posts a week for the rest of the year as one of my goals and am going to do my best to stick to this (so stick with me, won’t you?).

Perhaps you can draw some inspiration from my list. I also believe it’s important to make them fluid. Life happens, so navigate them to the best of your abilities. That’s not to say that the goals should be taken lightly, but also remember to go easy on yourself.

Recovering from depression is a marathon, not a sprint. Some days the list will seem impossible, others it will be the only thing getting you out of bed. It’s all about rolling with the punches. What are your mental health goals? I’m rooting for you!

Conrad was here.